With the Clippers on the rise, Doc Rivers is the fresh face on the LA sports scene. He has already directed a great deal of attention toward the team with his recent banner stunt. There’s even talk that Rivers might take the team all the way to the championship, a path that would make history for a team long considered the Lakers’ little brothers. But it won’t be easy.
Associated with ugly defense and a pejorative nickname, the Clippers have a long way to go. So why is Doc Rivers so fit to take on the job? Why will he be the one to finally give this team a recognized name in this town?
The answer: because Rivers understands that nothing worth having comes without struggle.
Even back in college, Rivers proved this to be true. The first conversation Rivers had with his, now wife, Kristen, was the epitome of a struggle. “You’d be kind of pretty if you washed your hair once in a while,” were the first words Rivers spoke to Kristen.
After he unintentionally insulted her, he set her up with his best friend. Then he won her over, and finally the two ended up together. It was anything but easy. As of today, they’ve been happily married for twenty seven years.
As an interracial couple, the two could not avoid the backlash of racism. During a summer in the mid-90s, Rivers was playing in a charity golf tournament in Seattle. His tee shot was interrupted by a golf cart racing down the fairway driven by someone shouting that his house was on fire. The fire was believed to have been arson committed by members of the neighborhood.
Thankfully, none of Rivers’ kids were in the house; and R.C. Buford, GM of the Spurs at the time, raced in to save most of the family photos. But everything else, including their family pet, was gone. Without this difficult experience, Rivers is unsure whether he would have ever grasped a new understanding, “I realized all the stuff that was burned was just stuff…that was a big moment for me.”
By the time of the fire, Rivers was no stranger to racism as he had grown up in a segregated part of Chicago. But his wife, Kristen, was not as familiar.
It was a trying time for them, as it would have been for any couple, but they made it through with hope. “There are far more good people than bad people,” Rivers explains, “and I’m not gonna let the few bad people ruin all the good people I’ve met and the good places I’ve been.”
Rivers has been a lot of good places. One of which being the 2008 NBA Finals game, while coaching the Boston Celtics, where they took the title by beating the Lakers. But this win did not just fall into his hands. It was after many close games and multiple seasons that Rivers was able to lead the team to clinch their first championship win in over twenty years.
This explains why, when Rivers announced his move to the LA Clippers last June, he was faced with more than just frowns. He was called a traitor and a liar for moving to a city that was a major rival only days before. But Rivers stuck to his gut and did what felt right.
He didn’t want to stay in a “city where they expect [winning] cause they think it’s easy.” Rivers doesn’t work that way. He understands that the Clippers’ lack of banners implies struggle ahead. But to Rivers, struggle means possibility, “there’s nothing on the walls, it’s bare,” Rivers states, “and to me that’s a reason to take a job. That’s an opportunity.”
And this coach sees some serious opportunities for his new team. In fact, he has established plans for each of his star players.
He expects DeAndre Jordan to continue to excel defensively, and if he does, Rivers says he’ll be surprised if he’s not Defensive Player of the Year.
Furthermore, the coach believes that if Chris Paul can learn how to turn his individual wins into team wins, the team can really start to make waves. As to the excitement surrounding the Paul and Griffin combo known as “Lob City”, Rivers says it isn’t leaving anytime soon. As long as it’s something that can benefit the team’s offense, he doesn’t see any problem with it, “I want more lobs. I want ten more lobs if they work. I just don’t want them to be turnovers.”
But the Clippers are going to need to learn something even more important than plays if they want to make history. Just as Rivers has proven, whether it’s a spouse, a newfound outlook, or a championship title, nothing worth having comes without struggle.
“You gotta embrace the hard” as Rivers puts it. He believes that if the Clippers can understand that, it will be a season for the record books, “if we can do this, it would be a great story…it would be a hell of an accomplishment.”